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Heat’s hotshot moves aren’t lighting a fire under Celtics

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / September 30, 2010

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NEWPORT, R.I. — The subject of the Miami Heat doesn’t draw much of a reaction around Celtics training camp. In fact, the Celtics enjoy their role as underdogs, with the Heat’s new Big Three pushing them away from the spotlight.

Coach Doc Rivers has been flooded with questions over the past two days about the Heat and their threat to the Celtics, who are the reigning Eastern Conference champions. Rivers has chosen to remain neutral and even defended superstar LeBron James, who has been heavily scrutinized for leaving Cleveland and using a nationally televised stage to do so.

We will learn when the season begins in four weeks whether there is an immediate reason for concern, but for now Rivers is not focused on the Heat and their acquisitions of James and Chris Bosh.

“I don’t think it changed us,’’ he said. “We had a goal before July 1 and we had a goal after July 1, and it didn’t change. It just made it harder, but like I told them, if you want to win, it should be hard.

“There are going to be challenges, even if there weren’t Miami. If LeBron doesn’t leave, it comes from Cleveland. They just switched the challenge further south and made it harder.’’

It could be argued that the Celtics have a bigger rivalry with the Magic or Cavaliers, but that will change. The Celtics and Heat loom as the top two challengers to the Lakers.

There has been a great deal of chirping from the Magic camp about the Heat, as that intrastate rivalry is stepped up a notch, but the Celtics are more concerned about themselves. While “SportsCenter’’ is stationed at the Heat camp in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Rivers turned down NBA TV’s request to send correspondents to document Boston’s first week of training camp.

Perhaps subconsciously, he not only shifts the attention to Miami but avoids making waves by supporting James’s decision.

“I think they’ve gotten a lot of criticism they didn’t deserve,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t understand. I think LeBron did everything legal, right? He played it out until it was at the end and he could be a free agent, and it didn’t bother me that way. I guess I am an old-school guy but it didn’t bother me.

“LeBron was in one place for seven years — it’s not like he didn’t give it a shot. That’s what I don’t get. Some of the guys who have been giving criticism wanted to be traded from their teams back in their days, too. It’s just interesting.’’

It will take a few games, some trash talk, and some well-placed elbows for the Heat and Celtics to become fierce rivals. They don’t appear interested in starting the competition during training camp. There will be plenty of hype for their Oct. 26 season opener.

While the Heat moves appeared to make their neighbors in Orlando insecure and envious, the Celtics have barely acknowledged them. They have taken more shots at the Lakers, in fact.

Rivers has no problem acknowledging his dislike for the Lakers, who still have to be considered the favorites this season as two-time defending champions.

“It is going to happen naturally now,’’ he said. “When you get to the point where we’re at and the Lakers are where they’re at, there’s a natural dislike now. And that’s all good. I let it happen, and trust me, it’s happened.’’

The Celtics don’t plan on making friends, but they will be selective about making enemies so soon. There’s too much to focus on during training camp, and bravado means little in late September.

There is chemistry to build, a starting center slot still up in the air, and playing time to be divided among several talented veterans.

The Celtics have internal issues to address, so the outside issue of the Heat hardly sparks a reaction, even from those legendary for their boasting.

“I am worried about my team and my guys right now,’’ Shaquille O’Neal said. “We don’t want to waste time talking about what other people are going to do.

“We’ve got a great team and some of the best players in the world. Every team is on a mission, especially the ones who know they have a chance to win, like Boston.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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